Autism assessment ages 0-6

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) assessment can be a vital step in a child’s care when he or she displays some ASD symptoms. It is important to note, however, that formal diagnostic assessment does not always need to come before advice, therapy or intervention. In fact, the opposite is increasingly recommended. It is important to get support for presenting concerns and needs as soon as possible, regardless of the child’s developmental diagnosis.

    All children presenting with symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) should be directed to appropriate intervention providers as soon as concerns arise. This may be through:

    • private medical and/or allied health practitioners, including speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, specialist nurses, paediatricians and child psychiatrists. 
    • community health providers 
    • childcare and education-based staff
    • hospital-based clinicians such as paediatricians
    • the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) - Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI)

    For children aged 0-6 years of age, a diagnosis is not required to access most private or publically-funded interventions for children presenting with social and more complex developmental concerns. Please see

    In 2018, our first national guideline for autism assessment in Australia was published. Please see

    This document recommends that developmental and functional needs assessments are prioritised when children are presenting with autism concerns. We now describe both types of assessments below

    Developmental and/or functional needs assessments

    These are assessments that provide information about your child’s developmental progress, current support needs, and behaviours. They may include

    • Child and family history gathering
    • Observations at home, in education settings, at a clinic, or in the community
    • Standardised assessments conducted directly with your child
    • Standardised questionnaires that you or others involved in the care of your child may be asked to complete

    These assessments may be conducted by:

    • Speech and Language Therapists
    • Occupational Therapists
    • Psychologists
    • Specialist Nurses
    • Social Workers
    • Paediatricians or Child Psychiatrists
    • Multidisciplinary Teams

    Please see the national guideline link above, or the links page in this section for more information. 

    Autism-specific assessments

    When it becomes clear that a child requires an assessment to explore possible autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there a number of recommended pathways to consider. These are again detailed in the national guideline (link provided above).

    What is important is that the assessment service/s accessed are as timely and as close to home as possible. For many children and families, this may mean that RCH will not the best place to address the concerns identified. Clinicians and teams across the RCH are available to direct families and referrers to the best possible service to meet their current needs. Please see the “Contact Us” page in this section for more details.

    Who can diagnose autism in Australia?

    1. Single clinicians, called diagnosticians. These may be paediatricians, child psychiatrists, specialist psychologists or less frequently, neurologists. These clinicians will usually rely on reports and observations from others that may clarify a child’s presentation across home and community settings.
    2. Multidisciplinary teams, which can include a number of medical or allied health professionals working together

    What are the assessment options within RCH?

    If this is a first-time referral for developmental or autism-related concerns, the Developmental Intake 
    team may phone the referrer and/or primary caregivers to determine a child’s support needs at this time. For primary care referrals, such as those from GPs or Maternal Child Health Nurses, a child is likely to be directed to the child’s local outpatient paediatrician service. For children living in North-West Melbourne, a child may be placed with an outpatient service at RCH.

    For secondary-level services, such as when a referral has been made by a paediatrician, a multidisciplinary assessment may be indicated.  There are three possible teams in the hospital that will be considered when such referrals are received:

    Specialist Autism Assessment Team (SAT)

    This is a tertiary referral service and accepts referrals only from paediatricians, for children with complex diagnostic needs only. This team is part of the Integrated Mental Health Program. These teams are regionally based. Only children in the North Western region of Melbourne are accepted at RCH SAT. Please click here to see a map of the Western region

    Complex Developmental Assessment Service (Neurodevelopment and Disability (Formally Developmental Medicine)

    This is a specialist team for children accessing regular specialist medical care at RCH. They often have multiple sensory and/or complex developmental needs. Assessment is completed by a specialist developmental paediatrician, speech pathologist and psychologist. 

    Autism Multidisciplinary Assessment Team

    This team is for 2-5 year olds, and accepts primary and secondary referrals for children in the North West region of Melbourne. Clinic operates using current Medicare item numbers for Autism assessment. Assessments are conducted by a paediatrician, a speech pathologist and an Occupational Therapist.

    Please note the RCH does not offer ongoing therapy services for children with developmental care needs generally. These are best provided locally in community settings, by preferred providers that are relevant to the child’s and family’s needs.

    Our new Stepped Care Team are in place to assist with your enquiry. Please phone 9345 4631 to discuss any concerns or service needs. Otherwise, please see AMAZE for more details and advice relating to autism assessment and intervention services in Victoria, at

    What are the Assessment Options Outside of the RCH

    There are a number of public Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessment Teams in Victoria.  These teams are divided geographically into service specific regions of Victoria.  Each team has slightly different costs, wait times and  requirements regarding prior assessment, so please contact them directly. These websites details the public services outside of the RCH that currently offer autism assessments. 

    Public Services

    1. Regional and Greater Melbourne (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services - CAMHS):
    2. Inner and greater Melbourne (publically-funded teams not based at a CAMHS): 

    These services are subject to change without notice, and have variable wait times and clinicians included on the team. Please contact these services directly for more information.

    Private Services

    Unfortunately, there are generally long waits for public services with expertise in autism spectrum disorder across many regions of Victoria. If the family can access private services, there are a number of Medicare funding options available to them which may help minimise costs.

    Please see:

    Please also review our links page for further information on finding private service providers.

    Please note our Developmental Intake Team will allocate referrals in partnership with referrers and families. Please indicate if you think a particular pathway is most appropriate for a child and your rationale. Where possible, children should access autism assessment through local services unless there are additional complexities. Accessing local services helps to ensure that the child is linked in with their local community.